City will auction vacant houses with no back-tax bills attached


To pay or not to pay, that was the question.

For the past two weeks, potential city homeowners have been trying to get the answer to a seemingly simple question: Will those who buy houses at a special city tax sale have to pay delinquent city property taxes?

Yesterday, they got an answer.

The program will proceed as it was originally billed: 1,500 homes will go on the auction block May 12, and the buyers will not be saddled with either back taxes or liens.

The confusion began March 24, when The Sun reported the plans to auction the homes free of liens and back taxes.

That immediately prompted confusion at City Hall, with some officials insisting that the program did not include waiving back taxes and others insisting that it did.

A fact sheet from the city Collection Division was given to all interested buyers this week stating that "net taxes" -- or all back taxes owed on each property -- would have to be paid at the auction. Other liens and penalties would be waived, the sheet said.

But yesterday, after a protest from City Council President Mary Pat Clarke and at the order of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, the city announced that both overdue city taxes and liens would be forgiven, as originally announced. State tax liens will not be waived.

Clinton R. Coleman, Mr. Schmoke's press secretary, said miscommunication among bureaucrats was to blame for the mix-up, which he estimated has left hundreds of interested buyers puzzled.

"The mayor said that's the way it is going to be and that is how it will be," Mr. Coleman said.

The program is designed to encourage people to buy vacant and run-down houses, renovate them and return them to the city's tax rolls. A change in the state tax code allows the city to waive back city taxes to make the properties more attractive.

Some of the dwellings are saddled with liens totaling $49,000.

In the meantime, the city finance department is charging $4 for a list of the vacant and abandoned houses to be auctioned. The sale begins at 9 a.m. next Wednesday at the Convention Center.

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